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Rich Tradition: What You Never Knew About Christmas Pudding

As well as offering rich Christmas puddings, both traditional and gluten free, we present a few festive facts about the Yuletide dessert that may surprise you

Many of us still regard good old Christmas pud as essential for rounding up the Christmas meal, determinedly leaving just enough space between the ‘pigs in blankets’ to ensure a generous dollop can be forced on top of the turkey and trimmings. Yet even the most ardent Christmas pudding devotee might balk at a spoonful of the earliest recipe food historians have found in their search for its origins. 

Meat porridge anyone? 

Taken from a medieval 15th century manuscript in the Library of the Royal Society, it was re-published in 1790 under the less than appetising title ‘Stewet Beef to Potage’ (potage being a savoury porridge chiefly consisting of vegetable mush and grains). This precursor of the Christmas pudding calls for a strident mix that includes chunks of beef or mutton seethed in water, a lot of wine with minced onion and herbs, bread for thickening, sandalwood (used as a red colouring agent), seasonings of cloves, cinnamon, mace and raisins and currants. 

Centuries later, in 1726, Cesar de Saussare acknowledge the palate challenging aspects of this by now festive British dish, writing; ‘everyone from the King to the artisan eats soup and Christmas pies. The soup is called Christmas porridge, and is a dish few foreigners find to their taste’.

The rise of plum pudding (without the plums) 

Over the years this potage mixture was gradually made to thicker and thicker consistencies, until the most practical method for cooking it became to place it in muslin or cloth and boil it in water. This was how the dish eventually became referred to as ‘Plum Pudding’, although its worth noting that actual plums have never been and ingredient, as the word ‘plum’ was originally used in reference to any dried fruit. 

After being banned for a period following the Civil War, as Cromwell and his Puritan followers tried to make Christmas a time of fasting rather than feasting, plum pudding steadily gained popularity amongst all classes in Britain, most especially during the Victorian era, and by 1843 when Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published (featuring a lengthy passage on Mrs Cratchit’s preparation of the family pudding for Christmas Dinner) the dish had become synonymous with the festive table. 

During this period plum pudding also became something of a symbol of Empire, it’s considerable list of exotic ingredients, procured from all corners of the commonwealth, signifying the scale of Britain’s global dominion. 

Victual rituals  

Few foodstuffs come loaded with as many rituals and traditions as Christmas pudding. Flaming the pudding in brandy, also introduced by the Victorians, is said by some to represent the Passion of Christ, while the traditional ingredients used to make it are deliberately numbered thirteen to represent his disciples. 

Religious connotations also apply to ‘Stir-up Sunday’, the day when families are supposed to gather and prepare their Christmas puddings. The name does not in fact refer to stirring the Christmas pudding mix, but is actually the informal Anglican name for the last Sunday before Advent (taken from the words ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’ found in The Book of Common Prayer). 

Queen Victoria’s embraced many of the Germanic Christmas traditions introduced by her beloved Prince Albert, and thus they were swiftly adopted across the breadth of the British populace. This included the addition of the silver sixpence to the pudding mixture, promising the discoverer (on completion of the dental repair work) a year of good luck. Far more palatably, the royal couple were also early advocates of serving the pudding with a rich brandy butter sauce. 

Puddings past, present and future 

For many years Maw’s have been proud to supply Christmas puddings from premium maker, Cole’s. Based in Saffron Walden, this specialist pudding-makers have been perfecting their craft since 1939. Having sourced the fruit and spices for their sumptuous pudding from around the world, each small batch is then hand-mixed and baked gently in steam over an eight hour period, ensuring that Coles individual mini puddings deliver a richness, succulence and depth of flavor that’s perfectly complemented by the very lightest of textures.

This premium product has a shelf life lasting up to two years, and those with specific dietary requirements need not miss-out on this special festive experience, as the company also produces both a gluten-free and an alcohol-free version, allowing all to appreciate that, tradition aside, the proof of the pudding really is in the eating.